(mac)ro(mic) readers who’ve been here for a while will remember The Bridge by Lucy Zhang, a haunted (and haunting) flash we ran back in December of 2019. Lucy has a brilliant new chapbook out from Thirty West called Hollowed, and Editor-In-Chief Nick Olson recently had the pleasure of asking her a few questions about it.
Many of your stories here synthesize new versions of/takes on motherhood, relationships, and agency, playing with things like time travel and traditional remedies while at the same time doing a lot of cool slipstream things with the form. What was it like tinkering with all of this?
I gravitate towards narratives with these slipstream and speculative elements (especially when choosing what anime or manga to consume) so I guess naturally, they show up in my writing too. Earlier, I wrote more pieces set in reality, but these days, almost all of my new pieces are off the rails in some way or form. HOLLOWED is a mix of both of those older and more recent works. Hah, I suppose as time passes, the more and more I’m trying to escape into imagined worlds.
It was exciting to watch the way you deconstructed/reconfigured familiar settings and situations, broke things down into their composite parts. I’m especially thinking of the switch between coding language and a description of a pregnancy in “Code Baby.” Do you feel your coding background informs your approach to storytelling at all?
Yes? No? Maybe? But in less interesting ways than you’d imagine. I think many folks tend to iterate quite a bit on their stories, but just like how I write code with an end goal (churn it out, test it, ship it, bam bam bam), I approach stories similarly. Almost like engineering a solution with a definitive deadline at which I’ve got to ship it. I suppose my coding background makes me much less patient with how things move in the literary world—both within a story and within the industry (perhaps to my detriment :P). I wrote this particular piece while screening bugs, a tedious process of analyzing logs of bug reports folks file and either declaring their bug moot or declaring you’ll fix it in the indefinite future.
There’s this interesting exploration of remedies throughout the chapbook, combined with a recontextualization of bodies and food. Some remedies are innocuous and culinary-based, but others, like the body modification in “Thigh Gap,” can be surreal, even horrific. Could you talk a bit about what it was like to work with remedies in your work?
I grew up around a lot of Chinese medicine that I ate without question. I don’t know how much it did or didn’t help, but there were certainly a lot of far-fetched conclusions that I had a hard time wrapping my head around. Statistics is a whole other can of lies, but I like at least having some guise of data to back up a point. A lot of that logic finds its way into my writing—especially how you can fall down the rabbit hole of one perspective that your brain has successfully logicked and convinced you is correct.
There’s such a brilliant, seamless flow here from one piece to the next. Was there a chap structure you had in mind beforehand, or did these just manage to fit so well together? A bit of both/molding after the fact?
Why thank you! There was no structure beforehand. I tossed them together and maybe did a tiny bit of tinkering of order after the fact.
Whether it’s exploring the mechanics of the body, tinkering with anatomy, or looking at the human form through the lens of sculpture, you get a lot of mileage out of peering deeply within bodies, their physicality and function. The fascination is infectious. Was this something you intended, or just a happy byproduct of things you like to explore?
A bit of both! The body fascinates me, so even when I don’t plan on writing about it, elements of it show up anyway. I like looking into how things work. It manifests through exploring the body, engineering details behind mundane (or not so mundane) items, and the mechanics behind supernatural elements. I also love imagery that completely sucks you into a story.
What’s the oldest piece in this collection? Newest? How long did it take to piece this together, and when did you know it was done?
The oldest piece is The Stone Girl written 6/10/2020.
The newest piece is Century Egg written 4/20/2021.
I think almost all of my work fits together thematically and/or stylistically, so it wasn’t difficult finding pieces. Frankly, I think I saw Thirty West Publishing’s submission call, decided I wanted to submit something and whipped together a manuscript.
When did I know it was done? When I reached the expected word/page count! I don’t iterate very much. I like to say things are done and ship them out, a mindset that has helped and hurt me. But I’m also of the mindset that if I think too much, I’ll waver and reconsider my writing, take it back into draft mode, or toss it entirely. I figure it’s always best to trust my first instinct.
Lastly, I can’t wait to see what you do next. It feels like you could go anywhere from here. Do you have other projects in the works that you might be able to tease? What’s next for you?
I’m working on a revision of my first novel. It’s the most painful thing. I’m used to starting and finishing stories (whether it’s a micro or a 3k-word short story) in one day, taking another day to edit, and then sending them out. I even submitted this first novel manuscript with only a single copy edit, next-to-no revision and zero beta readers (the outcome: they liked the first 10 pages, asked for more, then rejected it kindly). Which I expected. It’s a dumpster fire manuscript. I wish I could say I was just done with it, but I guess I can’t complain too much. I do this to myself. Stay tuned.
Lucy Zhang writes, codes and watches anime. Her work has appeared in Fireside Magazine, Wigleaf, Apple Valley Review and elsewhere. She is the author of the chapbooks HOLLOWED (Thirty West Publishing, 2022) and ABSORPTION (Harbor Review, 2022). Find her at https://kowaretasekai.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.