Asian horror appears to have been on the rise in recent years with literary events and awards lists featuring both indigenous writers and people of the diaspora—those living beyond Asia in other countries. These creatives are bringing old lore and fresh perspectives to the horror genre, addressing topics such as gender, tradition, racism, poverty, war, and oppression through the lens of their lived experience. And Asian horror stories run the full gamut from terror to triumph, from epic adventure to ethereal ghost tales, and from bloody battles to quiet suffering. Yet as rich and vibrant as they are chilling, Asian stories always present a challenge, told as they are at the intersection of cultures, languages, landscapes, and generations.
Throughout Asian Heritage Month, Kendall Reviews is celebrating Asian horror creatives, culture, and folklore in this exclusive interview series with contributors from Unquiet Spirits: Essays by Asian Women in Horror edited by Lee Murray and Angela Yuriko Smith (Black Spot Books, Feb 2023)
Today, we welcome Frances Lu-Pai Ippolito (she/her), who is a Chinese American writer in Portland, Oregon. Her writing has appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Flame Tree’s Asian Ghost Stories, Chromophobia, Mother: Tales of Terror and Love, Death’s Garden Revisited, and Unquiet Spirits. She is the founder and publisher of Demagogue Press and the nonprofit, Qilin Press. Frances also co-chairs the Young Willamette Writers program that provides free writing classes for HS/MS students.
Her essay in Unquiet Spirits is “Belonging to Fear” and is a personal reflection on the issues of immigration, assimilation, and rising Asian Hate incidents, all of which are contextualized in the folktales of her childhood.
Kendall Reviews: What is it about horror that appeals to you?
Frances Lu-Pai Ippolito: Horror is as natural to me as breathing. I had a steady diet of ghost stories from my elders who instilled in the kids a healthy respect for the supernatural. For example, when my grandfather fought in WWII, he encountered many unhappy ghosts. One time his group arrived at an abandoned village too late to defend it. All the residents had already fled or been killed. He slept the first night in an empty house and awoke to the sound of swaying. Above him, hanging from a noose, was the ghost of a young man who stared down at him with unblinking eyes. My grandfather wasn’t afraid, but told the ghost that he wasn’t there to cause trouble and that he was sorry he did not make it in time to help his family. He offered to pay his respects to the man when there was an opportunity. And then my grandfather went back to sleep. In the morning, there was no noose or ghost. My grandfather kept his promise by going to the temple when he returned home to pray for the family’s peace.
We were not a religious or particularly superstitious family growing up, but these stories were not about religion or superstition per se. Horror was part of our culture. Horror was an understanding that death and grief can be traumatic and it is up to the living to care for the dead, especially our own.
So when I write horror, it always comes from a place of identity, family, culture, and respect.
KR: Please tell us about the supernatural, superstitious, or spiritual aspect that was the focus of your essay. What made you choose it? Have you been inspired to write about any others?
FLPI: “The Painted Skin”, or Hua Pi (画皮), is a story about a demoness who wears a human woman’s skin to blend into the human world. She repaints the skin to keep it fresh and beautiful. When her true identity is discovered, she is killed.
I chose this story because the demoness’s desire to belong resonates with me as a Chinese immigrant who continues to struggle to fit in. To me, the story presented itself as a perfect metaphor—an individual must suppress and deny who she really is in exchange for societal acceptance. That is also a plight of the marginalized, voiceless, and suppressed.
KR: Does your other horror work feature Asian myth and folklore? Do you make a conscious decision to include Asian experiences/characters in your writing?
FLPI: Absolutely, I believe strongly in both narrative plenitude and research plenitude. With respect to narrative plenitude, that means making an effort to include bits of my immigrant experience in everything I create. Race, identity, culture, etc. doesn’t have to be the story, but I want it to, at the very least, flavor the reader experience. However, my lived experience is a tiny drop in the bucket. There are so many stories from the Asian diaspora that can and should be written and shared.
For a long time, the histories of Asian communities have been neglected, unprotected, unrecorded, or deliberately erased. In my nonfiction writing, I try to reclaim some of that history by transcribing oral histories or writing about historical events/locations—e.g. Hells Canyon Massacre and Block 14 of Lone Fir Cemetery. This adds to research plenitude and hopefully inspires others to create stories, art, etc.
KR: Any Asian / Asian diaspora creatives you’d like to give a shout-out to?
FLPI: All the writers in Unquiet Spirits, Tortured Willows, and Black Cranes
KR: Here is an excerpt from Frances’s essay in Unquiet Spirits:
I wonder if Popo watched American horror movies to find relief from this bitter second flavor of fear she had in her mouth. In the movies we watched, she and I seldom saw ourselves represented on the screen. . . . The lack of representation bothered me because no one who looked like me had adventures. On the other hand, for Popo, it may have been a small mercy to see bad things happening to people who did not look like her. She had seen too much real violence to want to see herself represented in the pretend kind. Afraid to answer the door, pick up the phone, or go outside, I recognized over time that my grandmother did not belong to China, Taiwan, or America. She belonged to the state of Fear. And in American horror, she found a respite from her own terror. If she had to be othered in this new “safe” country, then at least she wasn’t the only one suffering.
KR: Finally, what’s on the horizon for you. Any news you’d like to share?
FLPI: I’ve launched two separate presses. One focused on designing and publishing games and books. www.demagoguepress.com. Qilin Press is the other, a freshly born 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to marginalized voices and community storytelling. Both will have books/games coming out in 2023 and 2024.
KR: Thank you for dropping by!
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Kendall Reviews talks to…
Unquiet Spirits: Essays by Asian Women in Horror
From hungry ghosts, vampiric babies, and shapeshifting fox spirits to the avenging White Lady of urban legend, for generations, Asian women’s roles have been shaped and defined through myth and story. In Unquiet Spirits, Asian writers of horror reflect on the impact of superstition, spirits, and the supernatural in this unique collection of 21 personal essays exploring themes of otherness, identity, expectation, duty, and loss, and leading, ultimately, to understanding and empowerment.
Website and social media links.
Press Website: www.demagoguepress.com