Interview with Huina Zheng

Rappahannock Review Fiction Editors: We were intrigued by the mythological elements in “Lunar Curse”; is there a specific cultural and/or mythological inspiration for the story?

Huina Zheng: Yes, I incorporated some Chinese cultural and mythological elements in my story, many of which are closely associated with the Mid-Autumn Festival—my favorite traditional festival. This festival is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eigth lunar month, under a full moon. In my story, two sisters compete to make the perfect mooncake, a staple of the Mid-Autumn Festival that symbolizes family reunion and completeness. When mentioning the moon, we often think of Chang’e (嫦娥) and the Jade Rabbit (玉兔); hence, the “jade rabbit mask” in the story is linked to the moon goddess Chang’e’s companion from Chinese legend. Sweet osmanthus, often associated with the moon in Chinese poetry, is also mentioned in the story. Additionally, bamboo groves, a common motif in Chinese art and literature, symbolize resilience and integrity.

In the story, the sister who loses the competition must offer mooncakes to the forgotten deities deep in the forest, reflecting our tradition of presenting food offerings to gods and ancestors in festivals or abandoned sacred spaces to appease or honor the spirits. Furthermore, while making mooncakes, the sisters encourage each other and mention the Weaver Girl (织女) and the Monkey King (孙悟空). The Weaver Girl, a familiar mythological figure in Chinese culture, is separated from her lover, the Cowherd, by the Milky Way and reunites with him only on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. The Monkey King, a renowned character from the classic Chinese epic Journey to the West, is known for his fiery eyes and magical powers.

Additionally, there is a widespread belief in Chinese culture that celestial bodies, especially constellations and planets, can influence a person’s fate and characteristics. Therefore, in the story, I extended this traditional Chinese astrology to describe the sisters as being cursed by the moon due to being born under a waning moon, with physical anomalies at birth.

RR: How did you approach crafting and portraying such a close relationship between the sisters?

HZ: This is related to my upbringing. I was born and raised in China, where the one-child policy was once enforced. To have a son, my parents chose to evade this policy by secluding themselves deep in the mountains. In such an environment, I ended up with two sisters and a brother. My relationship with my elder sister is subtle; she is only two years older than me. Due to our closeness in age, my sister and I shared many experiences, which made us understand each other better. However, being only two years apart, we were always compared by those around us.

There’s a Chinese proverb, “Even when bones are broken, tendons remain connected,” which describes that relatives, despite conflicts, are still inseparably linked. I believe the relationships between siblings have a more profound impact on our interpersonal relationships than those with our peers. Our siblings are both competitors and confidants—competing for affection from parents from a young age, learning to share and be patient, and yet they are closer than friends. If siblings go through hardships together, these shared experiences can foster a deeper understanding and empathy among them.

In this story, the sisters, marked by a lunar curse and thus bearing unusual appearances, face rejection from their village. They share their hardships but also compete, such as during the Mid-Autumn Festival mooncake-making contest. However, during the competition, they encourage each other and ultimately decide to face the punishment together, bringing mooncakes to the abandoned temple to offer to the deities.

RR: Is there a particular writing practice you follow to motivate yourself while working on a piece?

HZ: From a young age, I have always loved fantasy. Whenever I encounter unpleasant situations in real life, I imagine a “better” version to cope with the stress of reality. This habit has continued to this day. I have always had poor sleep quality, often tossing and turning, unable to fall asleep, or waking up in the middle of the night and unable to fall back asleep. At such times, I start to conceive stories, which may stem from snippets of real life or distressing events I read about in the news. I yearn to weave a better ending for those unfortunate ones. In this story, it is for those children who are abandoned by their parents due to congenital disabilities or unattractive appearances. At least in my stories, these children receive love and care, much like the sisters who encourage and support each other. Now, what I do is write down these stories conceived in my mind. I usually wait until my emotions have sufficiently stewed and the storyline is clear, then I find time to write them down all at once.

RR: We read in your bio that you work as an editor for Bewildering Stories—how has the position influenced your writing?

HZ: Reading submissions for Bewildering Stories has greatly influenced my writing, but it’s the interaction with the journal’s managing editor Don (Donald Webb) that has had the most profound impact.

Unlike many journals, Bewildering Stories provides three types of feedback to submitters: acceptance, rejection, and revision (along with revision suggestions). They operate more like a school, with a warm and friendly atmosphere where harsh comments are never a concern. Even when giving feedback, they remain positive and encouraging. Submitters can revise their work based on the suggestions and resubmit, and the editors will then provide decisions on the revised version.

I have always lacked confidence, despite my love for writing, often questioning my abilities. Don, however, is a warm individual who always encourages me. Even when my writing is not up to standard, he and the other editors and readers provide constructive feedback. This process has not only helped me improve my writing skills but has also boosted my confidence.

Our frequent discussions about my stories have been enriching. Don’s vast knowledge and insights often lead me to new or deeper understandings of my stories. For instance, in one of my stories, I described the struggle and pain of a high school student facing the prospect of moving from a fast track to a slow track due to poor math grades. Don sent me an email with the copy of the back cover of John Mighton’s The Myth of Ability, telling me, “the author makes it clear that math can be taught in a way that makes the subject easy for everyone.” These discussions have given me new angles to understand and interpret my own stories.

Furthermore, my discussions with Don have solidified the core reason why I write: to share my reflections and to cast light on the real-life struggles that some individuals face. Don often remarks, “As always with your stories, I feel you have important things to tell us.” This feedback prompts me to reflect on the deeper intentions behind my writing, making me realize that my stories have substantial purposes. Take, for instance, the dilemma of a mother contemplating whether to encourage her third-grade son to conform to the educational system’s implicit standards after the teacher reports his subpar essay—she’s torn between fostering his compliance and preserving his individuality. These considerations are part of my everyday reflections. Writing has evolved for me; it’s more than a pastime—it’s a vehicle for my voice.

RR:  For fans of “Lunar Curse,” do you have any new projects you’re working on?

HZ: I currently have two main projects. One revolves around my short story “Ghost Children,” which can be found at This story is also about the relationship between two sisters in adversity. I aim to write various stand-alone yet interconnected short stories, each with its unique theme, to craft a larger narrative. Additionally, I am writing a novel while enrolled in the Novel Writing Certificate program at Stanford Continuing Studies, aiming to complete my first novel.


Read “Lunar Curse” by Huina Zheng in Issue 11.2