I was immediately grabbed by the first paragraph of “That Sun, Struggling Down.” I’m a huge fan of literary weird fiction. What inspired this story?
Over the summer, I participated in a writing challenge organized by Maggie Su, who is a third-year in the Indiana University MFA program and was a guest reader herself for SmokeLong Quarterly in February. Prose writers had to write five pages a week, and I was trying to complete my quota before the deadline. I looked at a prompt that suggested writing about a person who had a sudden change, and all of a sudden, I had “Ariel’s Song” from The Tempest running through my head:
“Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.”
I thought, “What if someone did literally turn into pearl?”–and the story grew from there. It was originally called “Sea-Change,” then “Only His Eyes,” but I decided Shakespearean references like those would be too on the nose.
Are weird/odd happenings typical of your writing? What do you enjoy writing about?
Yes, very much so. I didn’t feel completely at ease with writing until I discovered Angela Carter, Karen Russell, George Saunders, Kelly Link, Toni Morrison, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Maxine Hong Kingston, Haruki Murakami, and Aimee Bender, among others. I was under the mistaken impression serious writers didn’t write about ghosts and zombies until I read work like One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Bloody Chamber, and “Sea Oak.” You can imagine how happy I was to discover I was wrong.
It’s hard to say what I’m not interested in writing about! I love research and also dabble in creative nonfiction and poetry.
I’m most interested in the lives of Filipina-American women, because I still don’t see us represented very much in English-language fiction, although I tend to refract our concerns through a skewed lens. There are a lot of ghosts, disembodied voices, doppelgängers, and displaced Filipino and other Southeast Asian supernatural creatures like the duwende and kuntilanak in my work. I’m also heavily influenced by cinema (particularly film noir), Roman Catholicism, fairy and folktales, and Filipino and Filipino-American history.
I love how the ending kind of drifts away with the reader. Can you talk about the ending?
The ending in this story was not the ending that I originally sent to SmokeLong Quarterly. Editor Tara Laskowski emailed me telling me the staff loved the story otherwise but that the ending, which originally ended with the line about the eyelash, fell a little flat.
I wasn’t surprised, so I read through the story again, looking for a thread to tie it all together, and I was drawn to the earlier passage about the narrator pretending she and Cal were underwater. The heart of the story was always about the approaching end of their relationship, how fiercely the narrator tries to hold onto him, and how futile it ultimately is. Once I realized that passage was key to the story, it was an easy matter to call back to it in the ending, how he is drifting away from her, and her inability to follow him.
What are you working on now?
I’m gathering material for my thesis for my MFA program. Among other things, I’m researching Filipino folktales, particularly concerning the diwata, an indigenous mountain goddess; martial law under Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines; film noir; and the manongs, or Filipino laborers, of California and Hawaii in the early twentieth century. I’m juggling ideas for a novel, a short story collection, and a graphic novel, and trying to decide which to commit to for now!