“Different distortions of this so-called machine”: An Interview with Lucy Zhang – Curated by Wendy Chen

Lucy Zhang writes, codes, and watches anime. Her work has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Fireside Magazine, Wigleaf, and elsewhere. Find her at https://kowaretasekai.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.

Wendy Chen: Congratulations on the recent publication of your debut poetry chapbook Hollowed this past May through Thirty West Publishing! So much of your work in that chapbook embodies myth-making in our everyday reality in such a beautiful and unnerving manner. What myths have shaped you as a writer?

Lucy Zhang: Thank you! There are a few myths that have stuck with me since I was a kid: the Butterfly Lovers, many of the stories about Nüwa, and several others I’ve danced to or were drilled into my head at Chinese school. I also grew up watching Naruto, so the Japanese myth influences also left a deep impression on me (Amaterasu, Izanami/Izanagi, and just the general tales about spirits and monsters). 

WC: The physicality and image of the body seems central to many of the pieces in Hollowed. Bodies transform into slabs of pork belly, give birth to eggs, and are chiseled and carved away. What does the body represent to you? 

LZ: The body is a machine. It requires maintenance and can easily break, but it’s also surprisingly robust. Sometimes I take that a bit more literally than it’s meant to be in my stories and transform bodies in all sorts of strange ways. I like imagining different distortions of this so-called machine, especially since, for how annoying or problematic we might find our bodies, we can’t live without them. We’re constantly confronted with them, their transformations, and our ability to care for them.

WC: What is your writing process like? How has your process changed over the years?

LZ: Fire and forget! Plan nothing. No outline. Start with a very narrow concept that interests me and write myself completely off the rails. This has always been how I wrote, and how I continue to write. 

WC: How do you decide when a piece of writing is finished?

LZ: I’ve never really thought about this. Normally I finish a short story in 1-3 days, after which it must be “done.” It’s like I instinctively try to wrap the story up once I start reaching my expected word count. Unfortunately, this approach is not working very well for the work-in-progress novel that I’d like to call done.

WC: How does your background as a software engineer influence your work? Along with that, can you speak to how the I CAN SEE YOU WRITE project began?

LZ: I’m sure being an engineer influences my work in some way or form, but if you were to ask me to self-analyze, I’d probably open my mouth only for no words to come out. I suppose being an engineer makes me interested in details and descriptions of how things work? Sometimes I get lost in those bits of my stories and fall into the trap of too much exposition. More practically, coding and debugging most of the day makes me want to write more as an escape. I don’t think I’d write nearly as much as I do now if my full-time job were literature-related. 

I CAN SEE YOU WRITE began because I was interested in seeing what could be done with basic web technologies and art. I used to make generative art in university for fun, so I knew the opportunities were endless to incorporate both text and art/interaction. I also figured other folks had the same idea as me even if they didn’t necessarily understand that, say, JavaScript is very different from Java :P 

WC: How does your editorial work as fiction editor for Heavy Feather Review, assistant fiction editor for Pithead Chapel, and flash fiction contributing editor for Barren Magazine affect your own creative work? How would you define your editorial vision?

LZ: After reading for these literary magazines, I’ve realized how miserable my attention span is. In turn, I always try to start my stories with a line or idea I find compelling. It doesn’t always work, and of course when I read my own work, I naturally have a reality distortion field so I can’t always tell if I’ll bore readers to death. My editorial vision is: the piece should keep my attention and move me in some way.

WC: Who are you finding yourself reading now? What are they bringing to your life and/or work? 

LZ: The issue with me right now is after work, my brain is too exhausted to engage in “deep literary” things so instead I just read a lot of manga/manhwa/manhua/webtoons. My monkey brain uses far less processing power to enjoy them. I like the pretty pictures. I also watch anime, although not as much as I did before. I recently finished Dance Dance Danseur which was a very beautifully animated ballet series that most certainly inspired bits of writing here and there. 

WC: What projects are you currently working on?

LZ: I’m working on a speculative coming-of-age novel about two friends who find a sinkhole. I’d like to call it done but I’ve hardly revised it. Every time I try to read another chapter in the evening after work, I fall asleep. Probably not a great sign for the novel.