Asian Heritage in Horror: Interview with Wen Wen Yang
Wen Wen Yang is a first-generation Chinese American from the Bronx, New York. She graduated from Barnard College of Columbia University with a degree in English and creative writing. She listens to audiobooks at three-times speed, talks almost as fast, and misses dependable public transportation. You can find her short fiction in Fantasy Magazine, Zooscape, and more. An up-to-date bibliography is on WenWenWrites.com.
What inspired you to start writing?
I was always reading and imagining my own stories. Growing up poor, pen and paper are relatively cheap. When schoolwork moved to computers, my parents didn’t know if the Word document I had open was for school or not. My high school English teachers encouraged me, and I’m still chasing praise. Writing is solidifying dreams or nightmares, and when they are pinned down, that’s when you can kill the monster.
What about the horror genre drew you to it?
It was a lot easier to approach horror as a writer than as a consumer, because I control how bad things get. Evil will be defeated in a satisfying ending. I get nightmares very easily so I don’t consume horror as much as others do. My body horror flash fiction in If There’s Anyone Left: Volume 3 was directly from a nightmare I had after Texas’ recent attacks on reproductive rights.
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?
Yes. It’s a bit of “write what you know” (in the same way that most of my narrators are women) and “I thought this was a universal experience, whoops!” In light of the uptick in anti-Asian violence, I wanted to push back on being othered, exotic, and foreign. I can’t separate Asianness from my writing, like I can’t separate it from my lived experience.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
In the worlds I can control, I need justice and satisfactory endings. The world we live in is terrifyingly unjust. Most of my narrators are angry women. My Western horror story came from me digging into my feelings when I saw the call for Westerns. I don’t like Westerns. Why? Not great for women or Chinese Americans. Well, I can do something about that. Add in a little bit of research about the Los Angeles Chinese Massacre of 1871. I churned it out in two days.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? How do you think it will continue to evolve?
I unfortunately am one of those who can dish it out but I can’t take it. My recent foray into horror has been mostly short fiction. Prior to that, my elementary school years had Goosebumps and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. The exceptions were the series Lovecraft Country and the movie Get Out which I watched with all the windows open so the sunlight was banishing the terrors. I love that the genre’s becoming more diverse and inclusive.
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?
Instead of being the foreign or Other, it would be interesting to see us as the given, the culture that doesn’t need explanatory commas. Also, not a monolith, similar to the way that one New Yorker’s story isn’t every New Yorker’s story.
Who are some of your favorite Asian and/or Pacific Islander characters in horror?
The one longform medium I’ve been able to consume horror was manga so that already skews heavily toward Asian characters. (No sound, limit on jump scares, and the black and white pictures were less creepy than what my brain would invent for novels.) The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service has 14 volumes translated into English.
Who are some Asian and/or Pacific Islander horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
Cassandra Khaw, Alyssa Wong, Zen Cho, Marjorie Liu, Ai Jiang, Eliza Chan, Guan Un, Hannah Yang, Kelsea Yu.
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
Show me how the monster is defeated. With attacks on marginalized groups, show me how we win.
To the Asian and/or Pacific Islander writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
Read magazines to get a sense of what they publish. Tap into your strong emotions, and write stories that get the reader there, too. Beta readers and a critique group will challenge and refine, but you need to create the work first.