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Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage in Horror Month: An Interview with Vanessa Lanang




What inspired you to start writing?

At a young age, I’ve always had a love for books—I was that kid who finished all their summer reading plus some. I even used to make my own books with several sheets of folded paper and a stapler. Over the years, I don’t think I’ve ever outgrown that love for storytelling.

What draws you to the horror genre?

I grew up reading horror. Bunnicula, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, everything Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine. As a younger reader, I fell in love with the suspense and supernatural elements of the genre. As a writer, I’m more drawn in by the imagery and how themes like fear and control play into character and plot development.

Do you include Asian and/or Pacific Islander characters and themes in your writing with purpose, and if so, what do you want to portray?

I didn’t grow up reading characters that looked like me, and I think that influenced a lot of my earlier writing. But in the past 7 years, I’ve leaned more into my culture and my experiences and now primarily write main characters of Filipino heritage. I want readers to see that no matter what background you’re from how we handle struggles and conflicts is relatable. As well as a window into the beauty of that culture—I always include some type of Filipino food.

What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?

That a lot of how people handle conflict and react to situations—whether it be with anger, sadness, remorse, etc.—it stems from fear or the inability to control what’s happening to them. It’s interesting how good people do bad things in order to survive or deal with their struggles. I find that horror explores the darkness we have inside us.

How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? How do you think it will continue to evolve?

In addition to seeing a little more diversity spotlighted in the genre, I’ve seen some expansion in sub-genres of horror as well as horror trickling into mainstream literature. Horror seems to be one of those genres (like YA and romance) that receive flak, but I feel there’s a lot of talent out there in the genre that continues to challenge the level of storytelling and it’s going to continue to make large strides.

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?

The growing diversity of authors has been great for the genre. In some ways, fiction brings us closer to the truth than non-fiction can. Having writers from all ethnicities and genders takes us to worlds that we didn’t know we needed to see but makes us better for seeing them.

Who are some of your favorite Asian and/or Pacific Islander characters in horror?

One of my favorite characters is Okiku from The Girl from the Well. What really intrigues me is the history of this character that has been adapted from legends of the White Woman or Lady in White who’s a ghost typically dressed in white who was a victim of some kind of tragedy. She not only appears in Asian and Pacific Islander stories but globally there are similar versions. We also see this character adaption in The Ring.

Can you recommend some Asian and/or Pacific Islander horror authors for our readers to check out?

Authors like Alma Katsu elevate the horror genre, melding it with historical fiction to create inimitable stories that help us better understand the American experience through the eyes of a Japanese-American woman. Rin Chupeco is a Chinese-Filipino author whose work I enjoy if you’re looking for young adult fiction in the genre.

What is your best advice for horror authors today?

Just keep writing. Find your people. Connect with other horror writers who understand what you want to portray in your writing and be open to notes. There’s a wonderful community in the horror genre.

And to the Asian and/or Pacific Islander writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?

Stay true to your own experiences. I’m a first-generation child born in the US of an immigrant parent; I also grew up in the Midwest where I had little exposure to my culture outside of my home and the few Filipino friends we had. My experiences are very different than someone who grew up in a very culturally rich environment. Your stories have a place—continue to tell them.

Vanessa Lanang is a Filipino-American author who writes horror and dark YA fantasy. When she isn’t baking or playing tennis, she spends her days as an editor helping authors craft their own stories. Usually armed with copious amounts of coffee and her two cats (they do most of the typing). Her YA books include Whiteout and The Paranormal Playbook along with her debut dark fantasy novel, FIREHEART. The first book in her YA horror series, It Waits in the Dark, in which Filipino monsters haunt a small southern California town will be released in the early Fall of ’24. She can be found on Twitter (@vanessalanang) and Instagram (@vanessalanangauthor) as well as Substack.

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