Ice Queen Interviews Emily Hoang
Ice Queen: First of all, thank you. Thank you for being part of Ice Queen. It's always nice when people take a chance on something that hasn't really come out yet.
Emily: Thank you for inviting me to do a feature. Honestly, like I said, I really haven't been writing, but I've been wanting to write a story about dirty dogs [laughs] so this definitely gave me the chance to write that.
Ice Queen: I love that! Let me actually pull that one up in particular. So, let's start there then. Tell me about, "Ode to the Dirty Dog."
Emily: Yeah, so I have been kind of playing around with a Science Fiction piece that's set in San Francisco, and I've always had these two characters in my head. They're just two girls. They love to have fun and go out, so Dirty Dogs is kind of just my ode to all of my friendships and all of the girls that I've gone out with and also to dirty dogs. That's how we would end the night, you know. And it would just be such a fun and good delicious way to end the night.
Ice Queen: [Laughs] Yeah, I was interested like, cause I was like, I'm not really sure I know what a dirty dog is even. So, for people who might not be aware, what is a dirty dog?
Emily: Ohh! Yeah. So, they are these hotdogs that are sold at the side of the street on these carts. Usually they'll be outside near the clubs, and they're like these hot dogs that are wrapped in bacon and you'll get them with like onions and other things too.
Ice Queen: Okay. So, in the South, we call that street meat.
Emily: I love that.
Ice Queen: Yeah! So street meat was definitely something you only got when you maybe had a little too much. Especially, you know, down here [she means her town and not the entire South], there aren't as many street vendors, but it would only be downtown on the weekends. And it's like, okay, I'm going to trust it. I'm going to keep it moving. It's a hot dog. It's never done me wrong!
Emily: Yeah! At that point, you're just hungry or you want something to snack on.
It doesn't matter what it is. But people have gotten really creative–like I think here, people have started selling kimchi fried rice on the street, which is kind of cool.
Ice Queen: That is really cool but it's also one of those things where it makes me have one of those very old people moments of like, why didn't this exist when I was to going to the club?! [Both Laugh]
Ice Queen: We'll edit that part out. People don't need to know I'm old.
[Sidenote: We didn't edit it out, Ice.]
Ice Queen: "Ode to the Dirty Dog," when I was reading it, I just kept saying, okay. Yes. Yes, all of this. This exactly.
Ice Queen: I feel like I'm going to say that to every piece that I get because of course all of it's going to be exactly what I want Ice Queen to be!
Ice Queen: It's still not really about food. It's relationships and friendships, but the food is still such a strong through-line in that. And I loved that it could sort of stand-in, you know, as metaphor, as a memory. That it could stand for memory of those friendships. And I'm so happy that you were able to write it!
Emily: Part of me right now just needed the deadline to really, like, push this piece through. 'Cause I had all the ideas in my head. I just needed to really sit myself down and write it.
Ice Queen: Yeah. That's the downfall of graduating from the MFA.
Emily: Mhmm, yep! Exactly.
Ice Queen: When you've spent all this time in an academic setting where you have a particular deadline, and then you don't have it anymore. It's: well, I guess it doesn't matter. I'll just do it, whenever, but then whenever it becomes sort of never.
Emily: Life gets in the way and just too many things pile up.
Ice Queen: So tell me about "Death of Past Selves."
Emily: Yeah, so that one is a little more sad. Kind of similar to the other piece, it started from this character I had in my head that appears in a couple of my short stories in my book that I'm working on right now. And I actually wrote this one during a conference last year. I had a draft of it already done and like, kind of put it away after the conference was over. And then after you had reached out, I was like, oh, I actually have this piece about dumplings– another food that I love–and started reworking that to make it fit for your journal too.
Ice Queen: I'm such a sucker for both funny and sad pieces. And the fact that you gave me both, I was like [does strange nothing motion, very old tbh] just vibes. It felt... I always use this word– it's never correct, but I will continue to use it– melancholy. But that never touches the right... like, it's always close to the word, but never right, that feeling reading this. What was the feeling while writing it?
Emily: It definitely did make me a little nostalgic. I'm a sucker for any stories about mother/child relationships, and with this one, you know, it did start with some memories with my mom. So all the soups that are listed out, like I've had those soups and they just bring this like very visceral memory every time I think about them.
And I was a little sad because, in some cases, right, like I am kind of similar to the character where, I'm not separated from my mom, but there's this distance between us, you know, as I've grown older and I'm kind of looking at that in the piece.
Ice Queen: Yeah, definitely. I mean, it's one of those you can't really go home again type feelings. But I love that you gave the recipe for bitter melon soup and it ties into this piece as well!
Ice Queen: [Confession Voice] I actually never had a dumpling — other than chicken and dumplings, my dad makes drop dumplings and it's just like all flour—until I was in college and I would
just immediately stuff it in my mouth and like [mimics hot food]. So I could have used this back then.
Ice Queen: I want to switch gears to my written questions, but before I do that, I'm so intrigued. You keep mentioning these characters. Would you be open to telling us a little bit about your work in progress or these characters that you're mentioning?
Emily: Yeah! I think you got me at a good time because I finally got a breakthrough with my book. It's just been sitting next to my desk and I started outlining and then I realized what my book was finally about. I think at the center of it, it's about family and family expectations and obligations and the weight of that on my characters.
I'm trying to manifest these expectations through a horror/speculative lens, and kind of re-imagining it within an Asian-American context.
Ice Queen: Awesome! Can you tell us a little bit about your main character, or are there multiple main characters?
Emily: Yeah, there's going to be multiple main characters. It has a couple of story cycles. So I guess with the characters in the flash piece that I'm trying to work on, one of them is about a girl who is born in San Francisco and grows up in a pretty privileged family. And for some reason, like just kind of follows along with her family obligations and expectations and ends up repressing her sexuality. So I kind of look at her as she's growing up.
And then in "Death of Past Selves," that character is someone who originally followed family expectations of trying to go to med school, but figured out that that wasn't her and ends up kind of separating her from family and trying to figure out how to live after.
Ice Queen: That sounds amazing. Are you going to start querying that out soon?
Emily: I'm hoping to get it queried out by the end of the year. I haven't really been writing too much on it. I'm outlining, starting to get kind of more excited about the stories, because I think I know where they're going, and trying to make them weirder.
I have a residency coming up in September where I'm hoping to just hash everything out and get it done.
Ice Queen: Congratulations!
Emily: Thank you! Yeah. That's my first writing residency. I'm super stoked. And it's in Alaska. Middle of nowhere. Very excited.
Ice Queen: Yeah [Laughs] perfect place to write a horror manuscript!
Emily: Exactly. My own cabin, too!
Ice Queen: Okay. Yes. That's going to be brilliant. I can't wait to— I'll be the first pre-order! Well, probably your family will be first and then it'll be me.
Let's see. Oh! Tell me your favorite family recipe.
Emily: Ooh, this is hard 'cause I used to actually help my mom in the kitchen and she would try to show me how to cook. So I think my favorite probably would be her dumplings, honestly. And it's mentioned in the recipe, like the meat mixture that she uses, she uses the exact same one [for dumplings as well as the bitter melon soup] and just tweaks it a little bit.
But the act of just like making dumplings together... it's something that I always look forward to. And she knows I like dumplings, so I'll have it—I used to have it at least once a week.
Ice Queen: I was reading the meat mixture and my mouth was watering. I was like, get in my mouth.
Your mom is, like you say, a superhero— just making her own stock. And I was like reading this stuff. My God, I've done one stock before— I did a vegetable stock, you know, a few years ago when it was going around on I think Buzzfeed and people were like, save your scraps. And I did that. I got so annoyed though at how long it took to save enough scraps [Both laugh] to make. And then I finally did it and it was... It was not worth it. But I'm reading this and I'm like, okay, she makes this every week. She is so, so impressive.
Emily: Yeah. My mom is just, that's how she shows love, you know, through food. And I still can't believe she makes us stock so often. It takes a lot of time. It takes at least five hours— a whole day, even, to make this. And she's willing to do it because my dad uses the stock every day for breakfast.
Ice Queen: Oh yeah. I can't imagine doing that, you know, every week. At that point, I feel like it would probably be hard to explain to someone how to do that. When she first started doing it, that's probably the best time she could have told someone how to do it.
Cause now she's probably like, I just sort of take about *this much* and she just throws it in there. No measurements. [Both Laugh]
So would her dumplings be your favorite food?
Emily: Yeah, definitely.
Ice Queen: Can you remember the first time that you had it?
Emily: Ooh, probably when I was in middle school and I remember how in our old house we used to have this patio or sunroom in the middle of our house next to our kitchen, and our kitchen is surrounded by the windows. So in the summer it would get really warm, and every summer I had the same routine in middle school. I would reread the Harry Potter books while my mom cooked in the kitchen. This moment was when I was reading the fifth Harry Potter book. And she would come up to me with the dumplings and soup and some vegetables. And she wouldn't really say anything. She'd just kind of leave it next to me knowing that I'm going to focus on the book and I would just kind of chomp away while I was reading.
Ice Queen: That's a really specific memory and that's amazing. What would you say is your relationship to food in your writing?
Emily: Food does appear in a lot of my stories, kind of in the background to set up my character's culture and like kind of where they're coming from, so I think food is always, definitely present in my stories.
I'm always thinking about food in general, just because I love eating. [Both laugh] And, I also really appreciate cooking as an art and like have gotten into cookbooks as well. I think the form is really interesting, especially when it breaks from what we're used to like having specific ingredients and having numbered steps.
I'm kind of thinking of a specific cookbook that I just kind of recently read it's called Cooking at Home by Dave Chang, and he like does not have any specific measurements as well, you know, and it's very intentional because you're going to cook for your own tastes and everyone has different tastes.
So yeah, I think I'm always thinking about food. With cooking, I love watching people cook and I kind of imagine that process of them making something translating into the process of me writing something, you know, we end up with this final product as art.
Ice Queen: Yeah. That's part of what I loved about your mom's recipe for bitter melon soup! Do you know the cook, Justin Wilson?
Emily: I don't!
Ice Queen: He's actually a comedian who grew up in Louisiana around a lot of Cajun folks– he called himself a "half-bleed" cajun. And so he had a show called... It was probably something like cooking with Justin Wilson [it was called Justin Wilson's Louisiana Cookin'].
Emily: Is he someone you grew up with?
Ice Queen: My dad would watch it. It was a show that would come on, like PBS. Growing up we didn't have cable or anything like that, you know, we had just like the five channels that everyone could get.
But he didn't– he almost never used exact measurements. He would say stuff like put about a teaspoon of salt and then he would just like throw like a handful. And that sort of makes me think of that same, like it's people who cook, who really, really cook and enjoy it are like that, you
know? You feel it with your heart.
Emily: Yes, I totally agree. And it's like at first I was annoyed, you know, trying to make these recipes and I would just mess up because I didn't know how much to put in to it, but it's also like a really fun process. I try to remember that. It's an experiment we're playing with these ingredients to figure out what we like.
Ice Queen: Exactly! Yeah. And I'm the same way when I see, "salt to taste." In my head, every time I see it, I question, is it until you taste salt or to your taste? A little specificity in this particular instance would do a world of good for me!
Emily: I love salty food.
Ice Queen: Oh, same! Do you bake as well as cook? 'Cause baking is a science, you can't do that the same way, which is why my grandmother was a terrible baker. She was an awful baker because she was such a good cook.
Emily: I do bake, yeah. It's worked out for the most part. I baked a lot during like the pandemic, especially chocolate chip cookies. I've perfected my recipe, but I also don't totally follow a recipe. Like, I'll look at a bunch of different like recipes for the same thing, and then sort of combine all of it to make this hybrid recipe of all the things that I like for each one. And what's funny is, when we were talking about our love for salt, I'm not a sweets person, so I'll have like one bite or two of whatever I bake and then give the rest away to friends.
Ice Queen: Yeah! As I get older, I'm noticing that a lot of my favorite desserts are not very sweet, but all of the things that I love to make are very sweet and so I tend to give them away. But I think, going back to what you were saying about taking bits and pieces from other recipes and combining them in baking, I will do the same thing– but I think it's still very much still a science!
Recently, I've been reading a cookbook– I don't know if I'd actually call it a cookbook or if I'd call it like a cooking book; it's called Ratio, and it's all about how once you understand the ratio of a dish you never need a recipe. Like, everyone knows a pound cake is because there is a pound of butter, a pound of sugar, a pound of flour, and those are the basic ingredients to a pound cake. You can then sort of tweak that a little bit. You can add lemon or add a half a pound of butter/half a pound of butter milk, you know, you can mix things up! But once you understand that that's the, the golden ratio of a thing you can create something yourself. That's what I love. I love recipe creation.
Emily: Oh yes. I love that. I'm definitely going to check that out because I so agree that compared to cooking right, baking is a science. Like you've got to use the right ratio. So I'm definitely going to check this out. Cause I think that would help kind of perfect the idea of what using different recipes. What do you like to bake?
Ice Queen: I mean, I love pound cake.
Emily: Ooh. Yes.
Ice Queen: I mean, how could you not? I don't like... like I've noticed a lot of them are getting lighter? Less dense– if you go get pound cake from somewhere now it's often not, it's not a very dense cake and i'm like, it's supposed to be a dense cake. It's not supposed to be a dry cake, like dense does not equal dry. So that really bothers me. But, I also really love making cheesecake.
Emily: Oh my gosh. Yes.
Ice Queen: I make a pecan pie cheesecake.
Emily: Oh. My. God. Wow!