In Conversation with Marshall Moore
By Andrew Ashley
“Is it literary horror, horror with a literary element … or just horror?”
Marshall Moore was musing on the nature of genre and where his own work belongs as he talked recently about his new collection of short stories, A Garden Fed by Lightning.
“I don’t want to be reduced to a single area of writing - and I shouldn’t be.”
Adding a further element to the mix, Marshall went on to address whether his work is specifically gay literature. “At first I hated being pinned down to a particular genre. And I was really, really uncomfortable being termed a gay writer.” Now, he is much more pragmatic. “Just as long as people are reading my work, I’m not so worried. If I’d wanted to stick to a single genre, I would have done that by now but actually I’m pretty comfortable with what I’m doing.”
His fascination with types and styles of writing and with the limitations of genre led Marshall to undertake – and triumphantly complete in just two years – a PhD in Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University in Wales.
“I was originally planning to do research in English literature at City University here in Hong Kong,” he said. “Specifically, I thought of working on the writing of Jonathan Carroll, the American author known for his magic realism novels. But discussions with my professor at CityU made me realize I wanted to explore more widely so I decided to go for creative writing.”
The British PhD model offers the flexibility necessary for combining research with other work so Marshall chose to do a part-time PhD in the UK. “I wanted to be outside London, though maybe that turned out to be a little idealistic. The logistics of travelling from Hong Kong to Aberystwyth, in a remote part of the west Wales coastline were very difficult.”
Aberystwyth was an interesting experience. “It was so isolated, like living in a bubble. There was fuck-all to do. And sometimes I felt like only gay guy in the place, though of course I wasn’t.” Perhaps this will fit well with Marshall’s inclination to lead the readers of his stories down roads that are much less travelled.
Marshall’s readers shouldn’t expect to be lapping up tales of life at Aberystwyth any time soon, however. “It generally takes two or three years before I feel ready to write about a place where I’ve spent time. I’m still feeling my way into writing about Hong Kong.”
Even if Marshall remains ambivalent about the place itself, he is very positive about doing his PhD there. “They take literature and writing very seriously at Aberystwyth.” This reflection brought him back to the shortcomings of defining authors by the genres in which they write and the problems of being pigeon-holed, issues that he has clearly thought deeply about. “I don’t want to be reduced to a single area of writing – and I shouldn’t be.”
But Marshall admitted that it’s human nature to want to categorize things and this applies to readers as much as to anyone else. He raised the issue of the dichotomy between author intention and reader interpretation. “Of course both parties have rights. The author can intend what wants but equally, readers can interpret what is written as they wish. The author isn’t in a position to mandate a specific and unchallengeable understanding.”
Marshall went on to say that he has much less of a problem with this now and accepts that his work will receive many different interpretations. Perhaps this is just as well. His stories are so distinctively different that they offer a great deal of scope for readers to construe them in a variety of ways.
Having mentioned his feeling of being the only gay in town at Aberystwyth, Marshall also had a few thoughts on the state of gay life in Hong Kong. “It’s true that the number of gay bars is falling but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I’ve always felt a deep discomfort with gay life being defined by the bar scene.”
Marshall noted that there is conversation going on in gay media about the decline of visibly gay venues, not just in Hong Kong but in many cities around the world, a conversation giving rise to a great deal of angst. He recalled discussing this with Felice Picano, the gay American writer and critic. “He suggested that we tend to lament the passing of gay bookstores, seeing such events almost as an assault on the gay community.” But Picano went to say that often it was nothing to do with being gay. It could be a business thing, with so many independent bookstores – or bars – of all types going out of business, or it could suggest that gay life is being assimilated into the mainstream.
Gay life is definitely changing but what, if anything, will replace the bars? “I’m very impressed by Pink Season,” said Marshall. “The organizers do a great job and there’s always lots of stuff going on. But the city is only queer for one month in the year. What else is there?”
Marshall ended the conversation with an upbeat reference to A Garden Fed by Lightning. “It’s now available for pre-order online, before being published in November and it’s already cracked the top 100 of pre-order sales on Kindle.” Something else to whet the appetite for Marshall’s reading at the upcoming TLG meeting.
Andrew Ashley is moderator of the Tongzhi Literary Group