Dark Descents and Monstrous Bodies: Writing Under the Influence of East Asian Horror

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One of my earliest childhood memories was watching TV in the babysitter’s apartment. I connected every evening to a blurred area-esque show where each episode presented a story about a strange event. One episode was etched in my memory in particular: it featured a demon that haunted an addiction and gutted you if you ever found its rest. I was terrified of the toilet, long after that.

Growing up in Taiwan, the paranormal was part of everyday life. There was the annual Ghost Festival where citizens were warned not to approach bodies of water lest they be drowned by spirits who wanted to return to the land of the living. During Ghost Month, the streets were lined with tables laden with food to feed the hungry ghosts that had come out of hell, to keep them from devouring you in turn. Variety shows were plentiful throughout the year, where hosts fiercely debated whether photographs and videos sent in by viewers were evidence of a supernatural phenomenon. Those captured in these mediums were generally rumored to have met particularly grisly ends. All of this fueled my fascination with scary stories, as if the more I learned about these legends, it would protect me from suffering the same fate.

My love of horror continued to grow, even after we moved to Canada. Although I loved slashers and monster movies, I always found myself drawn to East Asian horror. Not just because of familiar settings or my cultural ties, but because I’m more drawn to stories that provide a creeping sense of unease as we delve into what the darkness is trying to tell us, like in the 2002 film in Hong Kong, The eye, where a girl begins to see ghostly apparitions after being given new eyes. We slowly find out what really happened to the donor and wonder if she is doomed to the same end. I also love stories where we’re constantly reminded that the normality and order of our reality is something we take for granted and can be just as easily disrupted: like taking a cursed videotape in the classic japanese horror Ringu (1998) and experiencing the terror of Sadako climbing through the television.

This fascination with scary stories has found its way into my own writing. The first manuscript I wrote after deciding to seriously pursue the goal of publication was a contemporary horror about a haunted summer camp. While continuing to work on my writing in the years that followed, one recommendation I received frequently as an aspiring author was to “read a lot.” Although reading was never a problem, I always felt a sense of guilt when consuming other forms of media, as such consumption meant a distraction from the discipline required to focus on writing. .

I wrote my first novel Poison-infused magic, with the classic fantasy storyline in mind. It follows the story of Ning, a commoner, who travels to the capital to attend a magic tea contest in a bid to win a cure to save her dying sister. She becomes more confident in practicing her magic as she overcomes challenges, discovering more about herself in the process.

But as I worked on my second novel, the looming deadline made it hard for me to concentrate on reading. I found myself returning to what has always comforted me about the horror genre: how the desire to protect the people we love pushes us beyond our limits, showing us that we are stronger than we are. never would have thought it possible. Much like a once-absent father’s dedication to saving his daughter from flesh-eating zombies in the Korean action horror movie Train to Busan (2016) and the bond that develops between survivors as they try to help each other. I realized that the reason why East Asian horror stories resonate with me so much is because the stories often revolve around relationships. Often evil is unknowable and inexplicable, its purpose is to test those bonds and show how strong or fragile our bonds with each other are.

In A dark and sweet venom, Ning must confront a monstrous being who has the ability to shape and feast on his nightmares. I knew that surviving the competition was only the beginning for her and that she had to face even more terrible challenges that threatened not only her family but her very existence. While writing this difficult sequel, I stopped reading novels and instead devoured other forms of storytelling as inspiration. I keep coming back to the idea that horror shows us the extremes of what we imagine we can endure for the people we love. The various forms of horror media that I have read or watched have allowed me to overcome the darkness of my story with my heroine, to despair her, yes, but also to face the terror head on to save those I she grew up. to take care of.

Taiwan being a former Japanese colony, I read a lot of Japanese manga growing up, and Venom was particularly inspired by the works of Junji Ito. A major source of inspiration was Gyō, where a couple battle monsters that emerge from the sea, fueled by a terrible stench. Ito is a master of body horror and truly disturbing imagery that involves bodies contorting, blending, mutating in gruesome and impossible ways. Some of these images definitely made their way into my story, and I channeled that stomach-churning feeling of revulsion into describing my monsters, as well as the fear of getting lost in this monstrosity.

The temptation to hold on to power at all costs was present in the drama of the South Korean period. Kingdom. The Crown Prince must survive a plague of zombies while investigating what happened to his father, and I incorporated into my story the sense of dread and urgency as the investigation revealed more and more secrets. dark. It also helped shape my villain, ensuring that his motivation, twisted as it was, was somehow relatable. This is another element that draws me in with horror: the call of the underlying darkness within all of us and the sense that we too can be consumed by it in a moment of weakness.

Echoing the same allure of fantastic noir, the Chinese film Yin-Yang Master: dream of eternity became one of my favorite films at that time. The coexistence of beauty and terror was perfectly captured in the aesthetics of the palace as monstrous beings lurked in the background of this film. But throughout history, the human element has never been forgotten and it has manifested itself in various forms of love and obsession. It reminded me to make sure the different relationships I developed in Venom have the same impact. Ning’s relationship with her sister remained at the forefront, even though their personalities clashed and fought, underneath it all there was always love.

However defying the writing of A dark and sweet venom was, I learned that reading with a critical objective was a method of working on the art of writing, but not the only one. Other methods were necessary in order to complete my creation. Immersion in various forms of storytelling, whatever the genre or form, must be part of my approach, however self-indulgent. I’ve learned to embrace my love for the grotesque, the scary, and the weird because it makes for a better story in the end.

Judy I. Lin was born in Taiwan and immigrated to Canada with her family at a young age. She grew her nose in a book and loved to escape into imaginary worlds. She now works as an occupational therapist and still spends her nights imagining her own imaginary worlds. She lives on the Canadian prairies with her husband and daughter. Poison-infused magic is his first novel.

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