Gabriela Lee, Author of “Hunger”

Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?

It’s about a young girl who deals with her appetites — her need to be recognized by her crush, her need to satisfy a part of her that’s dark and deadly. The mananaggal in Philippine mythology is a wonderful blend of old-school Western vampiric myths and native superstition. In myths, she’s a beautiful woman who can separate the upper half of her body from her lower half. The lower half stays rooted in one place while the upper half goes on a feeding frenzy — usually sucking the unborn fetus from a pregnant woman. If you look at the duality of such a creature, it serves as the perfect metaphor for adolescent hunger.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

I was going through a particularly bad heartbreak during the time and ended up distilling all of the funny and complex emotions that one usually has to deal with after getting their heart broken. Thankfully, the ending wasn’t as melodramatic as the story -– I’m still friends with they guy and I have no intentions of doing any harm to his lady love.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

It was hard in a way because I wrote it during a time when I wasn’t quite ready to leave my adolescence behind but at the same time, circumstances were forcing me to grow up. In that sense, a large part of Rachel is culled from how I acted when I was younger –- sans the pregnancy and the singing. I have a really bad voice.

Most authors say all their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

Again, going back to my previous answer –- it was personal because it was a way for me to achieve closure without doing any damage, physical or emotional, to myself or to the people around me. I needed an outlet for all these dark images that constantly crowded my head during the time, and this story was the result.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

None. I grew up devouring mythology of all kinds, and Philippine mythology is interwoven into the fabric of our culture, especially growing up. You hear all sorts of stories, whether in the city or the provinces, about people who were under the spells of ghosts or spirits or creatures of the night, and you can’t help but believe. I guess this is what makes our literary tradition so unique –- we don’t have to make stuff up, everything’s already there for the taking.

What is the appeal of vampire fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers and film viewers love it so much?

First of all, I never really thought of my story as an example of vampire fiction, however I guess the tropes are the same. Vampires have garlic and manananggals are afraid of salt. I think it represents the seductive powers of the darkness within us, that balance between light and dark that reminds us that we’re not exempt from such desires. Vampires become symbolic of what is dark and dangerous, and also becomes something we want, something we hunger for.

What are some of your favorite examples of vampire fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

I read Dracula when I was eleven, and my aunt confiscated that book from me because she said that I was too young to read it. Nevertheless, I stole it and ended up reading it underneath the blankets with a torch. So it always has a special place inside my heart. I also grew up on Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, Poppy Z. Brite’s Drawing Blood and Lost Souls, and a favorite example will always be Neil Gaiman’s “Snow, Glass, Apples.”