SU-YEE LIN interviewed by
BENNINGTON REVIEW

 

BR

Your story, "A Flock, A Siege, A Murmuration," takes place during the height of a bird flu in Shanghai, that bears similarities to an actual recent outbreak but then gets far more dystopian an apocalyptic. What inspired the writing of this story?

SU-YEE LIN

I was in Hangzhou during the first H7N9 bird flu outbreak in 2013 and just remember obsessing over the number of cases climbing every day. It felt surreal to just live my daily life there as though nothing were happening, taking my cue from those around me, yet know that this was not a normal situation. I remember wondering how bad it'd have to get for the Department of State (I was on a Fulbright fellowship then and loath to leave!) to decide to take their grantees out of China. This story came form an extrapolation of that experience, although the narrator is much more proactive than I was. 

BR

When you're constructing a story, what comes first: character or plot? How closely related do the two have to be? 

SU-YEE LIN

In often start with a very loose idea, not necessarily a plot per se. What really drives the story though, is the character and their reactions to their circumstances. I'd say the two are completely intertwined; although the general plot can be the same for two stories with different characters, the emphasis and story would still turn out differently. 

BR

What do birds represent to you?

SU-YEE LIN

Ha, I'm not quite sure how to answer this one but let's just say that if I were to be turned into an animal like in "The Lobster," I'd choose a bird. 

BR

While the outbreak of the bird flu and the speaker's obsession with it are the central points in the story, there is another, quieter story with the roommate. How do you decide when to incorporate subplots, when to weave in these other stories?

SU-YEE LIN

I think a subplot shouldn't detract from the main story being told and depends on the things the character is noticing and thinking about. In this case, the narrator is fairly distant from her roommates but they also play a role in how she sees and makes sense of the world. In some respects, I don't necessarily see it as a subplot but a way to flesh out who the narrator is, how she thinks and feels, and her reaction to her environment. It felt natural to the story, rather than a decision being made. 

BR

What can you tell us about your upcoming short story collection?

SU-YEE LIN

I'm currently writing a collection of magical-realist short fiction with an emphasis on identity and place. Many of the stories are inspired by my research in China, some by the folklore, many of them very place-specific. I'm really interested in the intersection between geography and identity and how identity is defined. In China, there's definitely the feeling that who you are is where you come from and so you are judged accordingly. Some of the work in this collection is an exploration of that, and of its contradictions. I'm also experimenting with extremely short work from 100-word micro-fiction to 1,000 word flash fiction, so it'll be a mix of lengths but I'm hoping to finish it sometime soon! Some of the work in the collection includes this story as well as one about factory workers working in a mysterious factory on the outskirts of Shanghai titled "Dream Machine" and a more mythical story of a climber in Yangshuo titled "The Monkey King Sleeps."


SU-YEE LIN'S writing can be found in Day One, Strange Horizons, Okey-Panky, The Offing, NANO Fiction, and elsewhere. A 2012 Fulbright fellow to China, she was also a 2014 fellow at The Center for Fiction. She lives in New York and is working on a collection of magical-realist short stories.


Issue Three
13.00
Quantity:
Add To Cart