Bestiary, K-Ming Chang
K-Ming Chang /張欣明 (b. 1998) is a Kundiman fellow, a Lambda Literary Award finalist, and a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree. She is the author of the debut novel BESTIARY (One World/Random House). Her micro-chapbook BONE HOUSE, a queer retelling of Wuthering Heights, is forthcoming from Bull City Press’ INCH series in 2021, and she is currently working on a collection of short stories. Her poems have been anthologized in Ink Knows No Borders, Best New Poets 2018, Bettering American Poetry Vol. 3, and the 2019 Pushcart Prize Anthology.
Here, K-Ming talks about the best writing advice she ever received, Hu Go Po, her latest art-crushes, and her recent book Bestiary.
Sebastián Hasani Páramo: How long did Beastiary take to write, from conception to publication?
K-Ming Chang: Bestiary only took a few months to draft, but the revision process took about two years, and that’s when the book really began to take form. From conception to publication, I’d say it took about two and a half years.
SHP: Where did you get the inspiration for your title?
KMC: I always joke that I chose a title I don’t actually know how to pronounce! It’s a word I would never have thought about using. But I remember when I was researching potential ideas, I read a Wikipedia article about how Bestiaries were traditionally Christian texts that illustrated and told stories about animals that usually ended with a moral. I loved the mythological context of it, but also wanted to subvert the meaning of the word by refusing an easy moral, and by focusing on non-Western storytelling traditions.
SHP: How do you feel about deadlines? Are they a good or bad pressure?
KMC: For me, deadlines are great! I love deadlines. I wish everyone gave me one! It gives me the swift kick-in-the-butt that I need, but I also appreciate a flexible deadline, too. I often give myself fake deadlines as motivation.
SHP: Besides writing, what other daily rituals do you participate in or feel are important to your writing?
KMC: Definitely reading and immersing myself in other texts. I’ve also recently started handwriting journal entries, which is a ritual I haven’t done since I was a kid. It’s been very grounding to check in with myself emotionally on a daily basis. It also helps me deconstruct my anxieties and forgive myself for days when I think I’m failing.
SHP: What is a favorite piece of advice from a mentor of yours? How did it help you with your writing?
KMC: My favorite piece of advice is from a former writing professor, Rattawut Lapcharoensap: he basically told me to keep following the language. I think I learned from him how to trust my own instincts – and I also learned from him all the importance and possibilities of revision.
SHP: You write poetry and prose, what is their relationship to your writing and do you draw a line between the two?
KMC: I think that right now I’m in a more prose mode – I’m learning to have faith in myself that I’ll eventually return to poetry, and I hope that when I write prose, I carry my language obsessiveness with me.
SHP: Do you keep a journal, or do you prefer to write on anything you can find?
KMC: It’s perfect that you mentioned this, because though I started to journal a bit, I almost never have a notebook with me when I need one. I usually send emails to myself, or write on whatever is available.
SHP: Who are you crushing on art-wise?
SHP: If given the choice to spend 24 hours in a museum creating something, what medium would you choose?
KMC: I’m so hopeless at most mediums! I’d definitely choose some kind of storytelling method, either writing or an oral history or oral storytelling project of some kind. Or maybe it would just become a dance party!
SHP: You write incredible prose that evoke myth, could you tell us your favorite stories/myths growing up?
KMC: Yes! I loved the Hu Gu Po story growing up, which is a story about a tiger spirit who lived inside a woman’s body. I also loved the Monkey King story and consumed many versions of it, in movies and cartoons and books. I loved mythology of all kinds, including fairytales, but my favorite stories all included animals. There was a myth about a crow that pulled the sun across the sky, which was another one I loved.
SHP: If you could describe Beastiary in three words, what would they be? Why?
KMC: In three words, I would say that Bestiary is a queer love story. (Love of many kinds!) I was interested in queering all kinds of things, family and belonging and place, and at the heart of all of it, I hope that the love in this book is visible. It’s about familial love, queer love, and a love for language and storytelling, too.