This is the second in my author interview series for Taiwanese American Heritage Week. Today’s special guest is Judy Lin, who is currently agented and hopefully soon to be published.
Since there isn’t a cover for Judy’s novel [yet], here’s a visual teaser in the form of an aesthetic collage she made:
That collage is imposing and mysterious but also hunger-inducing. Pork belly buns and mango shaved ice are among my favorites. Now, on to the interview! As with previously, my comments and questions will be marked in bold and labeled “SW.”
SW: I’m asking this to all of the authors I’m interviewing for this series, but since the protagonist of your novel is a food blogger, it’s perfect for you: What’s your favorite Taiwanese food? You are allowed to choose more than one!
Judy: My favorite Taiwanese snack is pineapple cakes. Buttery pastry outside and pineapple/winter melon jam on the inside. I’m also fond of fresh made egg/biscuit rolls. I love how they’re warm and crunchy and then crumbles into sweetness. My favorite flavor is original with black sesame seeds, but they come in tons of flavors like matcha or taro. I can probably write an essay on my favorite Taiwanese foods, but I’ll stop there!
SW: I would read said essay if you wrote it, ha. Tell us a little about your novel.
Judy: My novel Dead and Waiting is about a foodie named Lydia who goes back to Taiwan with her cousin to attend summer language camp. She accidentally summons a vengeful ghost with her fellow campers and they have to make their way off campus alive.
It’s filled with lots of descriptions of Taiwanese food, cousins who are more like sisters, and a dorky love interest. As well as a murderous ghost lurking in the hallways! I’m convinced all schools are haunted.
SW: So YA horror edition of Love Boat (a documentary on a famous summer camp for diaspora Taiwanese) or Seoul Searching (a dramedy film about diaspora Korean teens at summer camp). I’m very much looking forward to reading this. To be honest, I haven’t read much horror because it’s not my usual genre. What does the publishing landscape look like for the YA horror genre? Would you say it’s more or less diverse than other genres, for example, contemporary or SFF?
Judy: I wouldn’t say that YA horror is a very popular genre. It was difficult to think of comparable titles when I was querying my book, and even more difficult to think of horror novels set outside of North America. The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco draws from Japanese legends. A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith is more of a dark contemporary fantasy with horror elements set in Japan. That’s the two that come to mind. Which is too bad because I grew up with Chinese and Japanese stories about hauntings and spirits and demons. There’s lots of creepy material there for inspiration. I would love for there to be more horror stories set outside of North America.
SW: For me, horror brings to mind the 1987 Hong Kong romantic comedy horror film (yes, it is all of those things) A Chinese Ghost Story, which is kind of a classic and features Leslie Cheung (R.I.P.) and Taiwanese actress Joey Wong, who rose to fame playing otherworldly maidens. The film is based on an 18th Century collection of supernatural stories called 聊齋誌異, which is translated as Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. From yaoguai to jingling to jiangshi, there are so many creepy creatures and beings in Chinese culture.
Your novel is specifically about hungry ghosts. Ghosts, especially the spirits of our ancestors, are an integral part of Taiwanese culture, which is why families burn paper objects for their relatives in the afterlife to make sure they’re living comfortably. To stay up-to-date with modern technology, some families even burn paper iPhones or computers. If you were a spirit in the afterlife, what kinds of paper objects would you want your descendants to burn for you to keep you happy?
Judy: I would need a notebook and pen so that I can keep on writing stories and won’t be bored in the afterlife! Other than that I need a music player with 90s music and then I’ll be happy.
SW: I would probably want a laptop because writing by hand in the afterlife sounds like too much work, ha. Which authors have inspired you and influenced your writing?
Judy: When I was a teenager, I first fell in love with horror because of L.J. Smith. I devoured her Night World, Dark Visions, Secret Circle and Vampire Diaries books. I loved the idea of secret societies and people with magical/superhuman powers. I also loved the romance in those books.
Another author that I loved as a teen was O.R. Melling. She’s a Canadian author who was born in Ireland and writes books filled with Irish and Celtic folklore. Her books have a great sense of place and wonder. I hope one day a reader will tell me that my stories make them feel the same way.
I talk about this a lot, but seeing the cover of Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix was the book that made me realize – Hey, someone out there is writing stories featuring people who look like me and are from my culture! It made me feel like I might have a chance at pursuing my dream of publication, and it also made me less afraid of writing stories inspired by myths and legends I grew up with.
SW: Ooh, I’ve read O.R. Melling’s Chronicles of Faerie series as a teen, and I have to agree, they were atmospheric and richly imagined. I’m also in the same boat in that Silver Phoenix was the first fantasy YA with a main character that represented me. Seeing that plus subsequent Asian speculative YA getting published has been a great source of encouragement in my own writer’s journey, and I’m now at a point where I’m considering querying agents soon. What advice do you have for aspiring authors who are looking for an agent?
Judy: I think it’s so important to write the book of your heart. I didn’t know how marketable my story would be, but I knew it was the story inside me I wanted to tell. And I think it’s important to not self reject either once you finish the story if it might not be the current trend or a popular genre. I found my agent via a contest called Pitch Wars. I submitted my manuscript to Pitch Wars thinking that it wasn’t ready and that no one will ever pick it. But my mentors Axie and Janella picked my story and worked on it with me and helped me with my manuscript and beyond.
Contests like Pitch Wars contributed so much to my growth as a writer. I believe all writers should find their people. Writing doesn’t have to be a trek down a lonely road even though at times it seems like it. Find others to talk about writing, share stories, critique each other’s work and celebrate each other’s successes. Seeing people work hard and achieve their dreams is extremely inspiring to me and encourages me to work harder.
SW: I agree that finding friends and community is so important. Even as a blogger, that’s really sustained me and my work.
Now, back to horror. What is your favorite Asian horror movie?
Judy: I can’t pick one! My favorite is probably Shutter, a Thai film. It tells a great story and is spooky without being gory.
The scariest one I’ve ever watched is the Japanese version of The Grudge. Gave me nightmares for weeks. My childhood is filled with memories of being scared of creepy children (seems to be a popular concept in 80s and 90s horror novels and movies) and that fear has stayed with me still!
I recently watched Train to Busan and loved it. It was not a traditional horror film, but I was on the edge of my seat the entire time and cared a lot about all of the characters.
I think Asian horror movies are a wonderful blend of scary and heart. They are character driven instead of relying on jump scares, which makes them a lot more memorable than a violent slasher film.
SW: I actually watched Train to Busan recently as well because my friends were watching it in the room I was in at the time, and I couldn’t concentrate with the noise in the background, so I joined in. I was not expecting to be hit with so many feelings, but that’s exactly what happened. I think I may need to give horror a chance from now on. Do you have any YA horror recommendations?
Judy: The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco as mentioned above. I love how it plays with structure and tells the story from a different perspective.
Ten by Gretchen McNeil was a fun read. Flashback to the Fear Street novels by R.L. Stein that I devoured as a teenager.
Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake is one of my favorite YA horror novels because it has a great cast of characters, especially Anna.
Finally I want to recommend The Mall by S.L. Grey. Really creepy South African body horror. I’ve never read anything like it and don’t think I ever will. It’s not quite YA but it has “YA sensibilities.” Has commentary on consumerism and pursuit of youth and conjures up my teenage fears of being trapped in a mall.
SW: I’ve actually read other books by both Rin Chupeco and Kendare Blake (The Bone Witch and Three Dark Crowns, respectively), so I guess this is my sign from the universe to read their other books, among others. Thanks a bunch for participating in this interview. I wish you all the luck in getting published!
Judy Lin was born in Taiwan and moved to Canada when she was eight years old. She grew up with her nose in a book and loved to escape to imaginary worlds. She now divides her time between working as an occupational therapist and creating imaginary worlds of her own. She lives on the Canadian prairies with her husband, daughter and geriatric cat.