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 Geneve Flynn who is Chinese, born in Malaysia, but now calls Australia home. She is a two-time Bram Stoker Award®- and Shirley Jackson Award-winning fiction editor, author, and poet. She co-edited the ground-breaking anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women with Lee Murray, and her poetry appears in the Bram Stoker Award®-winning collection Tortured Willows: Bent, Bowed, Unbroken. Her works have been nominated and shortlisted for the British Fantasy, Ditmar, Aurealis, Australian Shadows, Elgin, and Rhysling Awards, and the Pushcart Prize. She is a recipient of the 2022 Queensland Writers Fellowship.
Her essay in Unquiet Spirits is “Some Things Are Dangerous, But Can Be Lived With: The Ghost Baby of Malaysian Mythology” and is a personal reflection on how ghost stories can help us to unpack generational trauma.
Kendall Reviews: 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?
Geneve Flynn: A kwee kia requires a death to be created and is often passed down from generation to generation; over time, it can grow stronger and becomes almost impossible to exorcise from a family. It seemed like the perfect representation of the generational trauma which began with the death of my mother’s older sister. I’d also written about the kwee kia in my short story “Little Worm” from Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women as a kind of tulpa, a being that is created through thought.
I’ve explored various other supernatural beings from Asian mythology in my short fiction and poetry, such as the jiang shi, pontianak, kuchisake-onna, ghost bride, penanggalan and hungry ghost. There is something intimate and horrifying about these creatures: almost all are women and all are ravenous or vengeful.
KR: What do you hope readers will take away from your essay?
I hope readers live a brief moment as an Asian woman like my mother: one who has been haunted by grief, expectation, and the diasporic experience. I hope they get a glimpse of the richness of the supernatural in Chinese and Malaysian culture and it whets their appetite for more.
KR: What was your experience of the ‘messay’ approach?
GF: When Lee and Angela invited me to contribute to Unquiet Spirits, I knew what I wanted to write but it terrified me. In Asian families, we don’t like to lift the lid on dark secrets because of what might come crawling out. However, my mother’s retellings of the death of her older sister seemed to be a wound that had never healed because it had never been allowed to fully air. There was a story there and, perhaps in the writing, a way to allow the ghost baby, the kwee kia, to come into the light and finally release its hold on my family. After all, isn’t that the basis of every ghost story?
I took my courage in hand and asked my mother’s permission to write her story. We spent the next few days recounting Aunt Rosemary’s death and the seismic shocks it sent through my grandparents, and then my mother’s life.
As we began piecing together the narrative, my mother became more animated and invested; even after I had turned in the final draft, she would ring me with further suggestions and thoughts. I like to think it helped her to unpack some things that would never go back into their boxes.
KR: Any Asian/Asian diaspora creatives you’d like to give a shout-out to?
GF: Oh my gosh, so many! When Lee Murray and I were seeking writers to invite for Black Cranes back in 2019, there seemed to be so few visible Asian women horror or speculative fiction authors. Now, with the explosion of interest and success of Asian narratives, we seem to be everything, everywhere, all at once.
I’d, of course, give a shout-out to the Black Cranes, Tortured Willows, and Unquiet Spirits—all the fantastically talented, brave women who have formed an amazing sisterhood and who continue to forge new and brilliant paths. A special shout out to these writers who have had recent successes: Grace Chan, whose debut novel Every Version of You is on the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist; Alma Katsu, J.A.W McCarthy, Christina Sng, and Lee Murray, who are all on the Bram Stoker Award® final ballot; Ai Jiang, whose short story “Give Me English” is a Nebula Award finalist; and Vanessa Fogg, whose short story “An Address to the Newest Disciples of the Lost Words” is on the British Science Fiction Association Award longlist.
KR: Here is an excerpt from Geneve’s essay in Unquiet Spirits:
After my grandfather passed away in 2003, my mother found a small tin box while sorting through his belongings. She had never seen it before; it was something my grandmother had hidden away. Inside, were the missing photos of Rosemary. Although my grandmother never brought out the box of photos, and would say she had three children—never four and one who had died—the box survived every relocation. My grandmother had created a form for the kwee kia.
KR: Finally, what’s on the horizon for you. Any news you’d like to share?
GF: I’m working on a horror novel based on Ching Shih, the most successful pirate of all time. She rose from a prostitute aboard a floating brothel in Guangdong to commanding over seventy thousand marauders and challenging the sovereignty of the Qing Empire at the height of her power.
I’ll also have a couple of short stories and poems coming out this year. My horror short story based on Othello, “To Keep a Corner in the Thing I Love,” will appear in Shakespeare Unleashed, edited by James Aquilone (Monstrous Books, April 2023). “A Box of Hair and Nail” is a horror short story inspired by an urban myth that was making the rounds when my mum was a teenager. It will be on the PseudoPod podcast late 2023 or early 2024. My poem “She Chi Grows” will be published in Under Her Eye, edited by Lindy Ryan and Lee Murray (Black Spot Books, Nov 2023).
KR: Thank you for dropping by!
Catch up on Kendall Reviews Asian Heritage Month Exclusive Interviews and content please follow the links.
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.
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