“The Lonely Heart” is a retelling of an ancient Chinese story, “The Painted Skin.” The story has also been made into movies — what compelled you to contribute your version?
I was writing a story for an anthology edited by Nick Mamatas and Ellen Datlow, which was about retellings of classic horror tales. Basically, at the time I was reading Pu Songling’s Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, and this was the one tale that stuck with me — because the detail of the painted skin is so horrific, I guess? There have been lots of movies, which I hadn’t watched at the time, but my husband and I really enjoyed the 2008 version with Donnie Yen, which is a great, er, romantic movie about relationships with great characters (I know, it sounds corny, but it really works!)
When writing your characters, do you place yourself inside them? Or do you write strictly as an observer with no empathy?
I have to write my characters while being inside them — otherwise I have no idea what makes them tick! Even if they do or say things that might seem horrible, they’re things that make sense to them, and I have to try to understand that.
The pimp character brings to mind the saying about the “banality of evil”; he’s so matter-of-fact, yet no less creepy. What is the creepiest character you have ever written?
I’ve written lots of creepy characters, so it’s kind of hard to decide. I think the one that comes to mind is the hungry ghost in “Golden Lilies,” a story that was published a while back — she’s this character who’s come back from the dead, focused on helping her family, no matter the cost — and her ideas of helping are sometimes very different from other people’s . . .
Would Chen have chosen to donate her heart if the pimp had told of the option before kissing her and beginning the process?
I kind of think she would have, yes — because on some level, she knew. At this point in the story, its shape becomes inevitable; not only for the reader but also for the character.
Any news you want to share? Upcoming projects?
I’ve finished the first draft of a novella in my Xuya universe, featuring four different points of view and centered around the disappearance of a technologically advanced city. And the big news is that my novel The House of Shattered Wings is forthcoming from Gollancz in August 2015. It’s set in a Paris ruined by a magician’s war and features Fallen angels, a Vietnamese immortal with a grudge, and an addictive drug made from ground angel bones.
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