Uncharted Magazine: In an interview, you described the sense of satisfaction and empowerment of putting yourself in control of a cruel world when writing horror. “Salt Girl” is a deftly written dark fantasy where dread is created through Rika’s loss of autonomy. Was there a catharsis to penning her deterioration into a pile of salt?
Angela Liu: I write a lot about intergenerational trauma, and I think in the case of Rika, it’s a similar case where her destiny’s been decided from the moment she was born, but she never even realized this. There’s freedom in knowledge, even if you can’t change your situation. There’s freedom in seeing things to the end.
I think sometimes there’s a sense of peace that comes with admitting how hopeless your situation is, that no one is coming to save you, not even yourself, and that you understand that. I love reading happy endings, especially with how the world is now, but I also want more complicated endings—ones where the characters aren’t neatly in better or significantly worse situations.
Uncharted Magazine: “Salt Girl” calls to mind folkloric stories and ancient myths, including the ones Rika’s father told her. What inspirations did you draw from in spinning this tale?
Angela Liu: There’s a Japanese folktale about a boy named Chikarataro who is literally made from the dead skin his mother and father scrub off their body each night during their bath. There’s a reference to that story in “Salt Girl” too! The original story’s not dark at all (it’s a children’s story), but the image of a boy made of grime really stuck with me. It made me think a lot about what he would do once his parents were gone. I grew up reading a lot of Japanese and Chinese myths/folktales, so I’m always looking to them for inspiration.
Uncharted Magazine: You’ve mentioned the importance of food in horror. One of Rika’s grounding rituals in mourning, other than maintaining her father’s sand garden, is drinking tea. What tea would you recommend that would quench a Salt Girl’s endless thirst?
Angela Liu: Pu’er tea! I grew up drinking Pu’er tea, all day, every day. Our shelves were filled with the teabags and loose leaves, and my mom would make a pot of it first thing every morning. It was the only thing I drank for years. With meals, after school, before bed. It was the drink of home. This may sound bizarre, but I couldn’t even drink plain water until I was in my late-teens because I was so used to the taste of tea.
Uncharted Magazine: There are so many layers to the terror in “Salt Girl,” from body horror and isolation to her uncomfortable interactions with the townspeople or the sense of Rika’s father’s complicity in her horrific fate. What do you consider the most important element in rendering a story that is truly terrifying?
Angela Liu: I think a creeping sense of dread and weirdness in the every day is what always makes a story terrifying to me. A strange comment from a family member, a stain on the wall that you don’t remember, the sound of rain when it’s not raining outside, an unfamiliar feeling in your legs. Hand-in-hand with everyday dread, I think losing control of one’s body is also one of the most terrifying things that can happen and can elevate even basic scare tactics (like a stranger coming into the house) into something so much scarier. There’s something very visceral and universal about the loss of basic physical autonomy.
Uncharted Magazine: I had the sense that “Salt Girl” would be comfortable in one of Junji Ito’s manga collections. If a reader wanted a story with the same deliciously dark salt content (actual presence of salt aside), what story of yours or another writer’s would you recommend that might be to their tastes?
Angela Liu: I love Junji Ito! The first story I published, “Ppaka,” in The Dark Magazine, actually covers very similar themes of loss of identity/self in a bizarre and horrific way. A more recent, darker story, “Devouring The Starry Night,” in Dark Matter Magazine #17, has a comparable tone and is about a monster in Van Gogh’s painting that is struggling to understand its existence.
I’m also a huge fan of the quiet everyday terror in Ling Ma’s stories. In her short story collection Bliss Montage, the story “G” has a similar dream-like vibe as the narrator rapidly descends into something she can never return from.
Uncharted Magazine: What are you working on next?
Angela Liu: My debut speculative short story collection, BEAUTIFUL WAYS WE BREAK EACH OTHER OPEN, is coming out next September with Dark Matter Ink, so I’m putting that together now. I’m also working on my first dark fantasy novel, which takes place in a world of cursed ink and demons.
Uncharted Magazine: Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!
Angela Liu is a writer/poet based in NYC and Tokyo. She is a graduate of New York University (Phi Beta Kappa), with double degrees in Economics and East Asian Studies. She also holds a Master’s from Keio University’s Graduate School of Media Design in Japan, where she researched mixed reality (with a focus on interactive narrative platforms and tangible interfaces for remote communication). Her short fiction is published/forthcoming in The Dark, Fusion Fragment, Maudlin House, Clarkesworld, Cast of Wonders, Dark Matter Magazine, khōréō, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, among others. “Salt Girl,” her first short story in Uncharted Magazine, is a chilling dark fairy tale exploring intergenerational trauma.
Sara Omer is a first reader for Uncharted Magazine and Orion’s Belt. Her work is published/forthcoming in The Deeps, Black Hare Press, and others.