Linda Cheng was born in Taiwan and spent her childhood moving between cultures and continents. She received her BFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design, and worked as an art director across South Carolina and Georgia where she developed a deep love for sweet tea, grits, and Southern Gothic stories. She currently resides in Vancouver, Canada with her family. Gorgeous Gruesome Faces is her debut novel.
I had the opportunity to interview Linda, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Thank you so much for having me! I’m Linda, I was born and raised in Taiwan, spent a good chunk of my adult years in the Southern United States, before settling back in Vancouver Canada. I write spooky love stories that are often served with a side of body horror.
What can you tell us about your debut book, Gorgeous Gruesome Faces? What was the inspiration for this story?
GORGEOUS GRUESOME FACES is about a disgraced teen pop star who comes face to face with her estranged former groupmate and the demons of their shared past at a deadly K-pop competition. It’s also a deeply personal story about grief, and how to forgive and love yourself again after making big, terrible mistakes.
This book was written in 2020 when I was going through a lot of personal hardship. I wanted a way to explore that pain, but also to throw myself into the things that have always brought me joy. GORGEOUS GRUESOME FACES is my love letter to Asian horror, pop idol survival shows, fan culture, complicated female relationships, and queer girls.
As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically young adult fiction and thriller genre?
Like many writers of my generation, I started my ‘career’ writing fan fiction, and then progressed to original works. Having moved across multiple countries in my formative years, I naturally gravitated towards coming of age stories, usually ones containing themes of self-discovery.
The supernatural world and the spiritual beliefs surrounding it are intimately tied to daily life in Taiwanese culture. Growing up as a child I was both scared and fascinated by the plethora of ghost stories, which eventually evolved into a full on love affair with the horror/thriller genre.
As Gorgeous Gruesome Faces is centered on K-pop, I was wondering if you have any favorite artists of your own that you like to listen to, as well as any that influenced your book?
My favorite K-pop girl group is ITZY, and I listened to a lot of IU, Red Velvet, and BLACKPINK as well when I was writing the book. The music videos of Pink Fantasy also inspired some of the imagery.
Since Geeks OUT is a queer centered website, could you tell us a bit about the LGBTQ+ content featured in your book?
I like to refer to my book as a horror-romance, as the sapphic love story is equally as important to the plot as the horror and mystery elements. Like me, my protagonist Sunny is bisexual, and her relationships with her love interests run the gamut from friendship to lust to obsession to rivalry. I wanted Sunny to have plenty of opportunities to be messy and make tons of mistakes, because growing up and falling in love and trying to find your identity is a messy process!
How would you describe your writing process?
My stories are character driven, and so I typically start by creating the main characters first, and then build the plot and setting around them. I tend to be more of a plotter, and I like to do a detailed outline before drafting so that I have a road map to follow, even if I do usually end up changing things along the way.
Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?
I really can’t recall seeing any Taiwanese-American protagonists in young adult literature back when I first immigrated, and there certainly were no queer ones. Malinda Lo’s Ash was the first young adult sapphic romance I’d read, and I remember being blown away. Seeing authors like Emily X.R. Pan, Cindy Pon, and Gloria Chao not only write about Taiwanese characters in their young adult books but also set their stories in Taiwan has been so inspiring, and was a huge motivating force for me to write my own.
As a writer, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration in general?
Horror/thriller movies and television shows are some of my biggest inspirations when it comes to writing. GORGEOUS GRUESOME FACES was greatly inspired by Korean vengeance thrillers and classic Japanese horror movies like The Grudge.
What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or challenging?
I love exploring flawed characters and the bad choices that they make, writing romances, and of course, coming up with good scares! I also enjoy creating unexpected plot twists that will take the reader by surprise. Developing the right pacing and figuring out when to deliver the scares and reveal the plot twists takes a lot of trial and error on the page.
Many authors would say one of the most challenging parts of writing a book is finishing one. What strategies would you say helped you accomplish this?
Having a critique group of other writers encouraging me and holding me accountable was what got me through to the end. Community support is invaluable.
Aside from your work, what are some things you would want others to know about you?
Despite loving horror movies, I can’t actually watch them alone!
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but that you wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
I love reciving and giving horror movie recommendations. My current recommendation is the Taiwanese folk horror movie Incantation.
What advice might you have to give for other aspiring writers?
Write what brings you the most joy, what makes you smile. Don’t put the pressure on yourself to constantly produce. If writing becomes draining and you’re finding a lack of enjoyment, give yourself permission to step away for as long as you need. Your story will be there for you when you’re ready again.
Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?
I am currently working on the second book in the GGF duology!
Finally, what books/authors (LGBTQ+ or otherwise) would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
The short stories of Alyssa Wong, Eugenia Triantafyllou, and Nathan Ballingrud
She Is a Haunting by Trang Thanh Tran, I Feed Her to the Beast and the Beast Is Me by Jamison Shea, The Witchery by S. Isabelle, Chlorine by Jade Song, Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung, Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado.