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 K.P. Kulski, who is a Hawaii-born Korean-American author and historian. She wrote the award-nominated gothic horror, Fairest Flesh, and the novella, House of Pungsu.
Her essay in Unquiet Spirits is “100 Livers” and is a personal reflection on biracial identity explored through the Korean folktale, “The Fox Sister” which depicts a fox demon known as a kumiho.
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?
K.P. Kulski: Fox spirits are popular creatures and I’ve even seen them imported into the Western consciousness, especially the Japanese kitsune. But the fox spirit I know is the Korean version and before K-Drama, she was dark, bloody, and terrifying and of course, because of these things, she’s long captured my imagination. I’ve often pondered what would drive her desire to become human. Kumiho’s are powerful, often solitary and embodiments of female power. However, she can choose to become fully human, not just appear to be human. It’s that slight but hugely significant shift in identity that really spoke to me when examining “The Fox Sister” story.
Korean ghosts are creepy as hell and I love them. So yes, I’ve definitely plunged into exploring more of Korean ideas on the supernatural. My WIP prominently features a mul-gwishin (water ghost) with my own twist, of course.
KR: What do you hope readers will take away from your essay?
KPK: Being biracial is hard. We never know where we fit and constantly float, as if we are already ghosts. I want people to understand the struggle, to stop trying to determine if someone is enough or not enough of one thing or the other. We are complete people with doors to multiple worlds.
KR: Does your other horror work feature Asian myth and folklore? Do you consciously decide to include Asian experiences/characters in your writing?
KPK: Writing something for others to read is a rather intimate experience. I am transferring ideas, thoughts, images, directly into the reader’s mind and all those things are bits of myself. But I left my Korean side out for a long time – this core, vital part of myself.
I think it’s a common sentiment among many of us that we either didn’t think anyone would be interested in our experiences, or we didn’t have the authority to tell those stories. After reading Black Cranes, everything changed for me and my writing. I felt seen and it was a powerful experience.
Then I talked to Lee Murray and she’s such a force of nature in all the beautiful ways. No one had given me permission before and she made me see not only did I have permission, but it was also always mine to begin with. She told me, “you belong” and that was it, I’ve been working continuously on things featuring Asian experiences and folklore. House of Pungsu came out of that, and the short stories, “My Skin Drum Garden” from The Dead Inside, and “The Pavilion of Far-Reaching Fragrance” from Asian Ghost Short Stories, and the novelette “Milk Kin” from A Conjuring for All Seasons. In addition to a script and a project I’m shopping right now, as well as my current WIP, it all features Asian experiences, ghosts, and witches—all quite on purpose.
KR: Any Asian/Asian diaspora creatives you’d like to give a shout-out to?
KPK: Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn, you are gorgeous and amazing both in the writing world and the spirit world. Angela Yuriko Smith and Rena Mason, you are both the best sisters, purveyors of dark fiction, and commanders of trouble and I adore you for it. Yi Izzy Yu, I believe you are among the important minds of our generation, you are brilliant, insightful, compassionate, and everything you write reflects these qualities. Frances Lu Pai Ippolito, you are a force, always looking for ways to uplift those around you and we’ve been lucky to have the strong, heartfelt voice of your work in our world. Jess Cho, your work rocks the Earth at its core and blooms colours in the sky of my mind, I admire the strength you hold to be fragile.
KR: Here is an excerpt from K.P.’s essay “100 Livers” in Unquiet Spirits:
Identity can be a brutal thing, and, for me, oddly correlates to Korean stories of the fox spirit, kumiho. The fox spirit appears across many Asian mythologies, most known are the huli-jing of Chinese lore, or the kitsune of Japanese mythos. In each, the stories describe a shapeshifting fox who usually transforms into a beautiful woman. But the goals of the spirit vary, at times sinister and others benevolent. However, in Korean mythologies the kumiho embodies a particular and consistent malevolent edge. Dark and bloody, the original kumiho is a thing of nightmares, a sinister being, almost always female, who feeds upon human flesh.
KR: Finally, what’s on the horizon for you. Any news you’d like to share?
KPK: I’m working on a new novel about a mul-gwishin/Korean water ghost. I’m also finishing up a script for a television series featuring Asian Diaspora Folk Horror. (Cross your fingers for me!) There’s another something out in submission-land related to the television series. Excited to see my novella HOUSE OF PUNGSU out in the world with some great reviews. I’m hopeful and busy in all the best ways.
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.